Friday, November 25, 2011

The Penn State scandal was a 'systemic' failure of masculinity, writer claims

After the jump is my response to an op-ed by Dani Meier that insists what happened at Penn State is part of "a systemic problem . . ., rooted in a cultural ethic of masculinity where men are taught not to confront other men about their “private behavior” even if it’s offensive, violent or illegal."  I had posted my comment under the article, but it quickly disappeared. I now present my argument in the court of last resort--False Rape Society.

I run the nation's leading Web site dedicated to giving voice to persons wrongly accused of rape and similar atrocities, False Rape Society. Although we advocate for persons who've been wrongly accused and who, too often, are unjustly deemed guilty by reason of an accsuation alone, we are also allied with rape victims, who invariably loathe and detest false accusations because they diminish the integrity of actual rape victims.

The author parrots unfortunate, and sexist, cliches when he writes: "There’s a systemic problem here, rooted in a cultural ethic of masculinity where men are taught not to confront other men about their 'private behavior' even if it’s offensive, violent or illegal."

While persons acting within institutions react differently to rape claims and other problems than individuals acting alone do, this is not attributable to a flaw in masculinity. Those of us who closely follow these issues find unmistakable patterns of gendered reactions to rape claims. The author has it exactly backwards: it is a far more prominent trait of masculinity for men and boys to overreact with violence and rage, than to underreact with silence and acceptance, to rape claims, even false rape claims. One need not look to the hanging trees of the Old South for evidence of this, there are innumerable recent cases of men and boys violently overreacting to rape. The following are a few examples -- and try as hard as you like, it is almost impossible to picture the genders being reversed here:

Remember Daniel Cicciaro? Not long ago, New York's Governor commuted the sentence of John White, a 50-something black father, who was serving a two-to-four year sentence for manslaughter in the shooting death of 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro, who was white. At his trial, Mr. White testified that late in the evening of August 9, 2006, his 19-year-old son, Aaron, woke him up to tell him that he had just come from a party where a young woman said he had threatened to rape her. Aaron told his father that a group of angry white youths were headed to their house to beat him up because they wrongly believed the young woman. Mr. White and his son walked to the end of their driveway to confront the youths, and in the heated confrontation that followed, young Mr. Cicciaro was killed. Mr. White claimed his gun accidentally discharged. According to a news report: "Cicciaro Jr. and four friends descended on White's home to confront his teenage son because they were wrongly led to believe that in an online chat room Aaron had threatened their friend with rape. She later recanted the claim." One boy is dead, and a father was imprisoned after a racially charged trial that divided a city.

How about this one: a 15-year-old girl falsely told her boyfriend that Sumbo Owoiya, 18, raped her. The girl, the boyfriend, and another man then drove to the innocent youth’s apartment. While Mr. Owoiya was looking through a peep hole, the other man shot him to death through the door. The boyfriend was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, but the girl was given a suspended sentence.

Or this one: two teenage girls lied to a 19-year-old man that another 19-year-old, Cory Headen, had raped one of them, so the man broke into Mr. Headen’s home and beat him to death with a baseball bat while he was sleeping. At the man’s trial, the judge described the teens who accused Mr. Headen of rape as "stupid, drunken, immature girls" who delivered a vile message. The judge sentence the man who did the beating to seven years in prison. One young man was dead, another’s life was destroyed, all because of a false rape claim, and the girls who ignited the fire apparently escaped unscathed.

Or this one: John Chalmers, a 47-year-old prominent businessman, suffered devastating brain injuries in a vicious attack after a woman's brother was wrongly convinced that Mr. Chalmers had raped his sister, so the brother thrashed Mr. Chalmers. So terrible was the beating that Mr. Chalmers has had to “learn everything again.”

Or this one: Darrell Roberson had come home unexpectedly from a trip when he found his wife, Tracy Roberson, and her lover, Devin LaSalle, together in Mr. LaSalle's truck. To cover up her affair, Mrs. Roberson falsely told her husband she had been raped, and Mr. Roberson shot and killed Mr. LaSalle. In a rare switch, a grand jury refused to indict Mr. Roberson, but Ms. Roberson was charged, convicted, and imprisoned for five years for involuntary manslaughter. "The wrong person went to prison," fumed Jill Davis, Roberson's attorney.

Or this one: Felisha Hardison, 25, from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, along with her mother, picked up a group of young men, ages 19-22, and drove them to the home of Cody Wightman, 25. Hardison and her mother then sat in their minivan while the young men proceeded to kick in Mr. Wightman's front door, then punch and kick him, and finally, beat him with a claw hammer. They cut Mr. Wightman's head and bruised him, but, thankfully, Mr. Wightman survived the attack relatively unscathed. The attack occurred because Hardison had told her mother and the young men that Mr. Wightman had raped her. Police say the rape claim was false. Earlier this year, Hardison, her mother, and four of the young men pled guilty to charges in connection with the attack. It turns out that several weeks before the attack on Mr. Wightman, Hardison had falsely accused another man of raping her. She pled guilty to that charge, along with charges related to the attack on Mr. Wightman, last April. In that earlier false rape claim, Hardison told police she had been raped by a man with whom she has three children. She claimed the man forced her to have sex with him, punched her and choked her, and videotaped the act with his cell phone camera. The man denied the allegations and said Hardison made the accusations to get custody of one of their children. A review of the cell phone camera footage contradicted Hardison's claims of rape and showed the two had consensual sex, police said.

Or this one: Renada Williams told two cohorts in crime, including a 16-year-old, that her lover had raped her. While Williams stood by in her Frankford home, her acquaintances, a man and a boy, allegedly beat her 29-year-old lover with their hands, a 4-by-4-foot wood plank, extension cords and a mop. The perpetrators allegedly yelled at their victim, "You raped her!" He responded, "I didn't do that, I didn't do that." But the pair believed Williams, and continued to punch the victim. The victim was then "violated with the mop stick repeatedly over time," undergoing nearly 24 hours of torture, according to the victim and police.

Just a week or two ago, a 23-year-old San Antonio woman, who authorities accused of instigating a murder by lying to her boyfriend about being raped, accepted a plea agreement in which she now faces up to eight years in prison.

And if we talk about overreacting to rape, we can't leave out Philadelphia. On a steamy day in June of 2009, an innocent man named Michael Zenquis was beaten by an angry mob after he was wrongly accused of raping an 11-year-old girl. In light of this despicable atrocity to an innocent man, what did the Mayor do? What did the police commissioner do? Nothing. Worse. The next day, a different mob caught up with the actual rapist and gave him a brutal beating that lasted several minutes until the police got there. So, did the mayor or the police condemn the vigilante justice? Exactly the opposite. The police gave two of the men who helped "apprehend" the rapist $5,750 each. Further, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced he would not pursue criminal charges against the mob.

Unhinged chivalry, far more than so-called "rape culture," is a defining characteristic of masculinity. Too often, this chivalry manifests itself in the worst kinds of overreaction and vigilante justice.

This doesn't account for what happened at Penn State, of course. The failure to call the police in that instance was a failure too common to institutions, but it is not one that can plausibly be attributed to gender. When members of what can aptly be called the paid sexual grievance industry suggest otherwise, it not only plays into the worst kinds of sexism, it is flat-out wrong.